NRC: An exercise in futility

national register of citizens

The final version of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has produced an anti-climax, because it has excluded just over 19 lakh persons out of 3.3 crore people who were called upon to prove their citizenship. The number of exclusions in the draft NRC released last year was 40 lakh. Guesstimates and statements of some leaders had put the figure still higher. The 19-lakh figure might even come down further because many cases of wrong exclusion have already been reported and the mistakes will have to be rectified. It has created doubts whether the Rs 1,200 crore exercise which started in 2013 was worth the money, time, effort and the inconvenience and tension that it involved. Applicants spent and suffered much more. The final list has not satisfied anybody, especially the BJP, which had made illegal migration from Bangladesh a major political issue, and others like the All Assam Students Union (AASU), which had campaigned and agitated against it. 

 It is difficult to find fault with a process directed and supervised by the Supreme Court and which was considered by its proponents as a model for other states to emulate. The central and Assam governments, both held by the BJP, had approached the Supreme Court towards the end of the process for re-verification of the documents submitted by applicants in some border districts, but the court did not agree to it as the NRC co-ordinator informed it that 27% of the applications had already been re-verified. The organisations which were party to the NRC case in the Supreme Court have said that they would approach the court again for rectification of the “errors’’.  But even if a rectification is done, it is unlikely that it would validate the exclusion of 40 lakh or more people.    

 The result is that the issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants is bound to continue as a political issue. The BJP has said that it would demand third-party verification of the NRC data or look for other ways to detect foreigners in Assam, and also seek an NRC exercise at the national level. The lack of closure of the issue will help the party to keep flogging it for its political purpose. The migration from Bangladesh is especially a potent issue for it because it is a toxic combination of nationalism and religion. This is clear because it is not against Hindu migrants, who might be granted citizenship through amendments to the law. In any case, what the NRC figures reveal is that either the demographic threat in Assam was grossly exaggerated or it is practically extremely difficult to detect all of them. 

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